President Trump, after slashing the budgets for 15 major agencies (e.g., Agriculture, Labor, Health & Human Services, Commerce, Education, Housing, Transportation, EPA, etc.) and completely eliminating funding for 19 other agencies, has proposed increasing the VA budget by $4.4 billion. In other words, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is one of the very few agencies in government that could see its budget grow in the 2018 fiscal year – by 6 percent. (Note: Over the past 9 fiscal years under President Obama, the VA’s total budget grew by nearly 86 percent, increasing from $97 billion in 2009 to $182 billion in 2017).
Given that one of North Carolina’s goals is “to be the most military friendly state in the country,” and that our state is home to nearly 800,000 veterans, 145,000 military defense personnel, and several major military installations, additional funding for the VA to expand health services and modernize its benefit claims system is a good step forward on the significant challenges affecting our state’s veterans and military retirees.
Challenges Affecting North Carolina Veterans
Last year the VA’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) discovered in North Carolina:
- Inappropriate VA Opioid Prescribing Practices: Challenges with the clinical environment in which Rutherford County Community Based Outpatient Clinic providers prescribe opioids and manage the pain-related needs of their patients.
- VA Surgical Service Concerns: Patients not properly evaluated at the Fayetteville VA Medical Center prior to surgery, causing surgical delays and cancellations. Additionally, ongoing problems with the operating room obtaining and maintaining surgical supplies and instruments.
Furthermore, while the size of North Carolina’s homeless veteran population reached a record low last year, the numbers continue to remain stagnant when assessed over time. Over the past nine years, the number of homeless veterans in NC has ranged from 888 to 1,413, an average of 1,105, according to point-in-time counts. Moreover, approximately 41 percent of all veterans in the state are over the age of 65, yet only 29 percent of all veterans in the state have been treated at a VA health care facility. Finally, some veterans still face significant barriers that make it difficult for them to find suitable employment, especially veterans who are transitioning into civilian life.
It’s more important than ever that these challenges affecting our veterans are addressed, given that our state currently has its highest veteran population in the past five years. Helping our veterans and their families achieve the level of economic self-sufficiency and dignity that they deserve for their service to our country is the right thing to do.